Indiana lawmakers unlikely to adopt lower drunken driving threshold

2013-05-19T17:30:00Z 2013-05-23T21:28:34Z Indiana lawmakers unlikely to adopt lower drunken driving thresholdDan Carden dan.carden@nwi.com, (317) 637-9078 nwitimes.com

INDIANAPOLIS | Indiana's federal-phobic Legislature likely won't follow a national safety panel's recommendation that states reduce their drunken driving limits to 0.05 blood alcohol content from 0.08.

The National Transportation Safety Board last week told states that redefining drunken driving will save 1,000 lives a year across the United States and move the nation closer to zero impaired driving deaths.

However, state Rep. Ed Soliday, R-Valparaiso, chairman of the House Roads and Transportation Committee, doubts his colleagues will readily adopt the proposed new standard.

"You basically have a non-elected body recommending that another non-elected body coerce elected bodies into doing something — that is going to raise the hackles of a lot of people," Soliday said.

It took a decade of legislative battles before Indiana lawmakers finally adopted the 0.08 threshold for drunken driving in 2001, down from 0.10.

The change came only after the federal government threatened to withhold all of Indiana's highway funding if the state did not reduce its drunken driving limit.

The current Republican-controlled General Assembly is even less inclined to follow federal mandates, with the Senate this year going so far as to demand a U.S. constitutional convention to propose amendments restricting federal power.

State lawmakers last month refused to replace Indiana's six-hour work day for mandatory community service after a drunken driving conviction with the federal eight-hour definition, causing more than $20 million of Indiana's federal highway funds to be redirected from road building to safety programs.

Soliday said before he'll try to persuade lawmakers to adopt the lower drunken driving standard he wants more research showing a lower limit is the best way to reduce road deaths.

"We haven't gotten all of the low-hanging fruit at 0.08," Soliday said.

The other NTSB proposals for reducing drunken driving include more frequent and visible drunken driving police checkpoints, mandatory ignition interlock devices to prevent convicted drunken drivers from starting their vehicles if they've been drinking and greater judicial scrutiny of drunken driving offenders.

"I think before we go running off and introducing law, because somebody suggested we should be blackmailed, let's look at the data and see what's most effective and with what do we get the most reduction in alcohol-related injuries," Soliday said. "Some of that may not need a law passed."

In general, a 180-pound man hits 0.05 blood alcohol content by consuming two drinks, such as a can of beer and a shot of liquor, in one hour. A 140-pound woman would be considered drunk after a sip of more than one drink an hour.

Most nations in the world, including nearly all of Europe, have a drunken driving standard of 0.05 BAC or lower. Canada and Mexico use 0.08.

In 2011, 32 percent of the 750 individuals killed on Indiana roads had consumed alcohol, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

However, just 36 victims had a BAC between 0.01 and 0.07. The other 207 were legally drunk under current law.

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